Working and briefing paper series: no. 46
What's in a name? The construction of social enterprise
Much attention has been paid globally to the concept of social enterprise. However, beyond the notion of trading for a social purpose, there is little consensus as to what a social enterprise is or does. Existing academic literature provides a bewildering array of definitions and explanations for their emergence. This is because the label 'social enterprise' means different things to different people across different contexts and at different points in time. This conceptual confusion is mirrored among practitioners. A wide variety of organisational types have had the label attributed to them or have tried to claim the label for themselves.
Using the example of the United Kingdom, where social enterprise has been heavily promoted and supported as a site for policy intervention, this paper provides an in-depth analysis of how the meanings of social enterprise have evolved and expanded over time. This enhances understanding of a fluid and contested concept constructed by different actors promoting different discourses connected to different organisational forms.